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Police are investigating after allegations surfaced on social media that a Dunedin man attempted to solicit sexual favours from a teenager in exchange for cash.
The posts about the man’s alleged behaviour were followed by torrents of abuse directed at him.
The incident has led Netsafe and police to warn against social media vigilantes.
The posts, to the Dunedin News Facebook page, attracted dozens of comments and responses on Wednesday morning after the man was accused of attempting to sexually groom the teenager via a cellphone number he discovered online.
The posts were removed promptly and the profile of the original poster of the accusations was removed, after people posted abusive messages about the man in response to the post.
Several more social media users made other allegations against the man.
Police confirmed yesterday they were investigating the substance of the allegations and the abuse directed at the man.
The situation moved Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker to hit out at people taking the law into their own hands on social media.
"It’s absolutely wrong to use social media in some sort of vigilante action," Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said.
"If you have some sort of evidence go to police.
"There’s plenty of accusations of this kind of behaviour on Facebook, the majority of which is false or fabricated
"If you have a genuine accusation take it to police. Putting it online isn’t going to be of value to anyone."
People who found offensive material posted about them should approach Netsafe and the website’s administrators about the matter, he said.
A police spokeswoman echoed that view.
"Police welcome complaints about this type of offending however it should also be noted that the Police only deal with the extreme cases under the Harmful Digital Communications (HDC) Act," she said.
"The [Act] allows officers to refer lower level offending to Netsafe for a mediation process to occur. This co-operative approach allows police to focus on the most serious cases whilst retaining an overview of what is happening with victims. Often there are numerous factors at play requiring a response from multiple agencies. The process remains victim-focused.
"There are always challenges in investigating online offending. Electronic evidence is fragile, and the internet is perceived as an easy place to hide online.
"That being said, in a lot of HDC cases the offender is often known to the victim, or is the sole person known to have access to the material.
"Our main advice is that prevention is all important. Think very carefully about the information you put online about yourself. You should also ensure the appropriate security settings are in place on social networking sites to ensure only trusted people have access to your profile and can post comments."